See the cripple dance: Bruises as a sign of healing, lilac season, and becoming nobody

While I often use the Three of Swords to talk about self-injury (and don’t worry, I’m not done with that topic yet!), lately I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the emotions around in/accessibility, and the possibility of access intimacy.

Mia Mingus coined the term ‘access intimacy’ in 2011. In Access Intimacy: The Missing Link, she wrote. “Access intimacy is that elusive, hard to describe feeling when someone else gets your access needs. The kind of eerie comfort that your disabled self feels with someone on a purely access level. Sometimes it can happen with complete strangers, disabled or not, or sometimes it can be built over years.”

I love the idea that a feeling can be named, and we can then find it in our own lives and continue exploring its relevance. In Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice she writes, “I want to say unequivocally that disabled people are everywhere. We are one of the largest oppressed groups on the planet. We are part of political movements, even if you don’t know or don’t acknowledge that we are. No matter what community you’re working with, you are working with disabled people. (And given how violent and polluted our world is, those numbers will only continue to grow.)”

And I cried as I read, “In an ableist world where disabled people are understood as disposable, it can be especially hard to build interdependence with people you need in order to survive, but who don’t need you in order to survive. In an ableist context, interdependence will always get framed as ‘burden’, and disability will always get framed as ‘inferior’.”

I’ve devoted much of my energy and writing toward not just accessibility, but attempting to describe the emotions around inaccessibility, especially as a crazy person with severe abandonment issues. Those feelings are the bruises, the knives through the heart, the grey skies, the exhaustion. On a vulnerable note, one reason I’ve written this column later than planned is because I felt like I’d already written it in my mind, and then I felt so sick to death of writing about in/accessibility that I just didn’t want to type it out. Then the deadline passed, and I realized I’d fucked up. Again.

It’s not the first time this has happened.I have emails I’ve never responded to despite my intentions, because there was a question or two about accessibility, and I just didn’t fucking feel like it. If you’ve been disabled for more than a day, you might be familiar with this feeling. Like, sometimes when somebody asks me about access needs, I want to say, “Please read the last few years of my writing, make a deposit to my PayPal account, and let me know if you have any more questions.”

I have a tough time discussing or reading about access intimacy or mutual aid, because sometimes they feel too rare in my life, and this lack brings up a lot of complicated feelings about whether or not anybody or enough people like me enough to show up. There is a lot of excellent writing and tangible suggestions toward mutual aid, though. For more on the topic than I could possibly spell out here, I highly suggest reading Now is the Time For Nobodies: Dean Spade on Mutual Aid and Resistance in the Trump Era , and Reina Gossett’s commencement speech at Hampshire College, where the term ‘nobodies’, and the pleasure found in nobodiness, in the context of resistance and activism is coined.

The Three of Swords got me thinking about the bruised feelings, the vulnerable feelings, the damaged feelings.

To me, the heart looks unprotected. I’ve chosen four imaginings of the Three of Swords to explore access intimacy and the emotions of inaccessibility. Since the suit of Swords is all about communication, I’m thinking about how to make the feelings of in/accessibility understood, as well as how to talk about how it feels when they are not. The first image (above) is Pixie’s Tarot and After Tarot, and the second image (below) is The Collective Tarot and Tarot of the New Vision. I chose these particular iterations because I love contrasting the classics with queerdo re-imaginings, and the others are delightfully bizarre decks that I stumbled into while looking for ones I’d yet to see or hear about.

Both are based on the traditional RWS: After Tarot shows each card a moment later in time, allowing us to imagine futures beyond what we usually see, and New Vision depicts each card from behind, as if we are spying on the scene to discover their secrets. Looking at the cards alongside one another allows us to imagine feelings and scenarios we might not have noticed before – this is how I feel when I find new terms to provide a different context to my poor mad cripple writer high school dropout existence.

Although often a card of grief and sadness, I think there’s the possibility of care and tenderness here too. The swords in this card, piercing a human heart, are smaller than the swords in the rest of the suit and could therefore be easier to extract and examine. I was recently talking to a couple of friends about how the word tenderness didn’t resonate with me until I began to associate it with bruises.

I thought also of a meat tenderizer (or soft marinating tofu if you’re vegetarian!), using strength and blunt force to make the things that nurture us, despite harm caused, more delicious and easier to digest. And as I often remind myself: bruises are a sign of damage, but they are evidence of healing too. (Thank you to my friends Lee Pepper and melannie monoceros for exploring these specific images of tenderness with me!)

In On Access Intimacy, Mental Health, and Rosebud the Psych Service Goat, Jacks McNamara writes:

“Sometimes I feel like it’s missing in parts of the alternative mental health movement that focus so much on resistance to the prevailing medical models of mental illness and on promoting counter-narratives of full recovery that there isn’t space to focus on how those of us who continue to experience madness, suicidality, post-traumatic stress, and other big emotional extremes deeply support each other. Identifying as disabled allows me to acknowledge the recurrent and sometimes severe nature of my struggles, and to seek structural changes that wouldn’t make it so hard to be in this world. Instead of trying to assimilate and pass as normal, it is so much more helpful for me to think about how to get support and get access needs met.”

Some questions to ask when interpreting the Three of Swords in the context of access intimacy, despair and isolation, and complicated emotions around inaccessibility:

What experiences have been accumulating that make me feel fatigued, alone, and distressed?
What does it feel like to name those experiences, and allow myself to feel this way without shame and without blaming myself?
What are the consequences of inaccessibility to my personal life and friendships, and what options are there toward acceptance and change?
Do I find myself feeling locked in ruminating thoughts of inaccessibility and isolation?
What perspectives and stories do I hold that are nobody’s but mine?
When I’m feeling wounded and bruised, where do I turn for comfort and consolation?
How have I coped with these feelings in the past?

In The Collective Tarot, we see a figure hidden in shadows, attempting to hold their heart together as a ghost-hand writes a letter with them. Are their eyes open or closed? Are they crying? Is that ink or blood on the paper? What does it mean that no specific words have formed? Who’s holding onto the missing photobooth strip?

In the accompanying book, we read, “The Three of Feathers is the intersection between communication and the heart. It is the gut-wrench when people who care deeply for each other fear irreconcilable differences, and the struggle through language to arrive at agreements. You may feel that words fail you, that no language could really communicate something inside of you. Distress, strain, and frustration follow.”

I recently had an experience of being humiliated in public after asking a conference organizer if there was an accessibility coordinator I could speak to. He laughed at me in front of hundreds of people, and nobody else with a microphone said anything to counteract his words. I tried to stay but my tears and frustration overwhelmed me, and as I attempted to leave, my body felt so constricted and ashamed and angry that I smashed my disposable coffee cup against the wall by the door.

It splashed back all over me as I left, dripping through my hair and sticky against my cheek, ear, and arm. I was now wordless, and this felt like the only way to move something that was stuck in my flesh out of my body. It felt immature, but I am prone to public outbursts – especially against people with authority – when I feel too powerless and frustrated for words. I had no desire to hurt myself this time, and that’s still a new and interesting feeling to me.

Where I live, we’re coming to the end of lilac season, which is my favourite time of year. Lilacs hold multiple significances to me: one of them is the temporary nature of beauty, magic,and moods, with the knowledge that, yes, they will die – but they will also return. This Spring, I’ve experienced mania, joy, remission, and inaccessibility and grief too. I’ve been re-reading Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill, a book I first read a decade ago, when I was going through a nervous breakdown, the loss of my home and a relationship, and applying for disability. I found a page where I’d underlined these words, “It felt as if we were in a different country: a country where no matter how badly you fucked up, you were still loved.” What would that place feel like?

In Tarot of the New Vision, the rain continues as everybody walks away. Why had they gathered in the first place? Who are they leaving behind? Why? Do you identify with the heart or the crowd? What does it feel like to look at this image?

In After Tarot, the swords are falling and the heart is bandaged. Where are the swords going? Who bandaged the wounds? Will it be enough for now?

Decks shown in this post are the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, the After Tarot, the Collective Tarot and the Tarot of the New Vision.

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  1. S. Diane says:

    This was exactly the piece I needed to read right now. I’ve been staying with my parents the last two weeks while I see a specialist for my chronic pain, and I’ve been feeling very isolated, lacking the access intimacy I’ve developed with my chosen family. I drew the 3 of Swords for my body tonight, and I cried when I saw it because I’m just so tired of being ill. This piece really struck a chord with me and gave me some solace, some space for tenderness with my body that’s trying it’s best. Thank you for writing this and for all your other work for disabled folx.

  2. katje says:

    Thank you for asking the questions. Thank you for touching on the idea of working with the concept of being crippled and the reality of what that means rather than fighting it.

  3. gangewifre says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely article… I’m low-energy and dealing with sore eyes so only got about halfway through, but that was enough for it to resonate deeply with me. The term “access intimacy” is new to me and I love it! I could immediately identify those in my life I share it with, particularly my parents and a very close friend. It’s such a gorgeous spacious feeling knowing that I don’t have to iterate and reiterate what I need, as a cripple with a hearing impairment and compromised immune system. They do the work – they tell me when they’re sick and contagious and can’t be around me; they ask if we’re walking too much or too far, if I need a break, and walk on the side of me that isn’t using the cane; they check-in about whether or not my environment is too noisy for me to hear them well. It’s such a relaxed, peaceful feeling, and oh how I love having a name for it. Because the opposite of it is something I know all too well, complain about all too much, and encounter too regularly. Being able to describe and name the solution is a beautiful thing. I think it also speaks to an additional layer of ableism in our society that I hadn’t been able to previously name. The onus being on us, those with disabilities, to advocate for ourselves, which can be utterly exhausting (particularly on top of all the other crap we have to deal with). Instead of having to contact places and explain (and then over-explain) access needs, or compromise on our side of things, I’d like questions about my access needs to be an everyday and regular part of conversation that is proactive and genuine. I want people to ask me instead of my having to ask them. I want them to genuinely be interested in what they can do to help me move through the world more easily, when it is a given for them to be able to do so.

    Cripple punk solidarity! Thanks again.

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